Subject

Petrea King

Interviewer

Jessica Raschke

Location

Bundanoon, New South Wales

Photographer

Hamish Ta-mé

Date

November 25, 2014

Petrea KingPetrea King

Petrea King: A profound quest to live

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone as determined as Petrea King to support people who have experienced grief, trauma and illness to reconnect with the sense of peace within themselves. Petrea herself knows how to do this after ‘conquering’ several traumatic life events. Among them was being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in her early 30s. She was told that she would be dead by Christmas, which was three months away. And yet here she is now, at age 63, telling her story and inspiring others with her wisdom, compassion and heart from her base at Quest for Life in Bundanoon, New South Wales.

Jess: Can you tell me a little bit about your early days? Where did you grow up and what are the milestones that led to where you are now?

Petrea: I was born in Brisbane and moved to Sydney when I was five. I was the youngest of three children and I had two brothers, one being 18 months older than me. His name was Brenden and he was a chaotic presence in our home. He exhibited ADHD 20 years before anyone knew what it was and he spent his childhood falling off the roof, breaking bones, decorating the house with lipstick, clinging to my mother and she mostly had to carry him everywhere. Being a little younger than he, I tried to be as invisible as possible, to have no needs. For me that became second nature just to disappear and not have any needs. For instance, once when I broke my arm it took three weeks for my mother to hear that my arm was very sore and needed treatment. I just didn’t have a voice and was so used to being invisible.

Brenden told me before he was 10 that he had to take his own life by the time he was 30. I immediately took that on as the reason for my existence. “That’s why I’m here, I’m here to keep Brenden safe.” I adored him, but I also found him really challenging, scary and difficult. He was incredibly bright, gifted with music, art and creativity.

Suddenly the whole physical world became completely insubstantial and there was this blinding light that was far more real than the physical world.

When I was seven I had a profound spiritual experience when I was just running in the garden with my pet dog. Suddenly the whole physical world became completely insubstantial and there was this blinding light that was far more real than the physical world. I could see through the earth, the house, my dog and the trees. The only way I can describe it is to say it was like seeing the hand inside the glove; the glove being everything that was material but the hand being that which enlivened everything. While it was a very powerful experience, I didn’t discuss it with anyone because I don’t think I even had a language to do so.

When Brenden reached his teen years he went into major depression and he was hospitalised on and off for years. He took awful drugs which turned him into a zombie and he also underwent electric shock treatment. I found everything that was happening to him to be totally awful and I felt responsible that I wasn’t able to help him. He attempted suicide several times before he did finally succeed in Kathmandu when he was 32.

When I was 11, I grew 23 centimetres in one year. My knees swivelled in and started dislocating and I was unable to walk without constantly falling. After months of physio, I left school at 13 and entered hospital where I virtually spent the next three years having a dozen corrective surgeries and learning to walk again. The surgeon cut my legs at the femur and turned my lower legs outwards. Then he cut the tibias and turned my lower legs inwards, as well as transplanting the tendons under my knees and shortening some muscles while lengthening others. After one of the surgeries I was in traction for nine months because the femur wouldn’t unite and my doctor said that I would never walk again. After so many months in bed, my legs were like two white hairy sticks attached to my body and, even with all my willpower, I could not move either of them.

However, when I was told I would never walk again my steely determination kicked in and so, every night between nurses’ rounds, I would unhook myself from the traction unit, get out of bed and, taking my weight on my arms, manoeuvre myself around the bed. I could feel my bones grinding together and this dislodged the plate and screws holding my femur together, but the bone completely united in three weeks. I returned to theatre to have the plate and screws removed as they were lodged in the muscles by my nightly activities. Of course, the doctor wondered how and why my bones had suddenly healed albeit slightly crookedly but I was too scared to say what I’d been doing at night for fear of criticism or punishment.

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Because of the unspoken spiritual experience I had at seven and then this hidden life in hospital, I developed a split reality of being someone very privately to myself and the ‘me’ that I kept highly polished for everybody else. In our family, no matter what awful thing was happening, we always coped and we never talked about how we felt, we only talked about what we thought.

Jess: You kept up appearances.

Petrea: Yes, the attitude in our family was that we could (and would!) all cope with everything. I think this stemmed from never wanting to be a ‘bother’ because Brenden was being a much bigger bother! It was as if Brendan had ‘bagsed’ being a worry to the family so there was no point in competing with him on that. As a child and young teenager I felt quite depressed and overwhelmed by the way the world seemed to me. Why is it such a painful place? How come I have food while kids in Africa don’t? How come I’m going to heaven because I heard about Jesus and yet those children will burn forever because they didn’t hear of him? Why are humans so cruel to one another and to animals; so thoughtless about nature and the environment? I couldn’t bear a God that allowed such suffering. So I sacked that God very early on when I had the experience of seeing beyond the material world. That had been such a profound experience for me and I knew I was more than my physical body.

During my hospitalisations I had several out-of-body experiences. I suffered with really terrible cramps in the leg where the femur wouldn’t unite. The cramp would start in the toes and move right up through my leg into the hip. By then, I would usually pass out with the pain and I would find myself on the ceiling looking down at my body. From there I could see my body going through the motions of the cramp but the ‘ouch’ – the pain – went out of it. It was very confusing; I knew I wasn’t my body because I was watching it going through the pain yet ‘I’ was alright and felt I was beyond the pain.

While in hospital I devoured all the books in their library, which was housed on a trolley that squeaked as it was wheeled around by volunteers. I would listen out for the familiar squeak of its wheels because new reading material was on its way to me! I read Krishnamurti, Alan Watts, the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, Thomas Merton, Aldous Huxley and the Bible among many others on animals, nature and astronomy. I devoured every encyclopaedia and studied the dictionary to learn words so I could beat my grandmother at Scrabble – which we sometimes played for hours. This is where my education and vocabulary really came from – these books and writings – and playing Scrabble!

Jess: So a lot of philosophical and mystical writings.

Petrea: Yes, as a child and then teenager I was really curious about life. I was trying to find answers to all the great questions about existence. I taught myself to meditate when I was 17 and it has remained a constant in my life ever since.

After recovering from the dozen operations and teaching myself to walk again I went into nursing, which of course was too physically demanding for me after so much reconstructive surgery to my legs. Within a year, I had damaged my spine and was confined to a back-brace. It was during this time of again being laid low by my body that I was raped by a ‘friend’ at a church fellowship meeting. I was lying down resting in the bedroom of the house where we regularly met when this man overpowered me with his strength and desire. If I had called out for help, it would have been provided but I didn’t have a voice. I was just so used to being quiet, to not being a bother, not rocking the boat, disappearing somewhere else beyond the pain, beyond the humiliation and the fear. I felt, “You can do what you like to me, I’m not here”. It was some years before I told anyone about that experience as I had felt it was my fault because I didn’t call out for help. I didn’t even think of it as rape because I was to blame.

At 18 I ran (limped!) away to the country as I felt defeated by life and relationships and I craved the stillness and solitude I found in nature. Nature made far more sense to me than people did! I worked in western Queensland outside of Cunnamulla and from there I went to NZ for a year, then Holland (where I used a lot of LSD!), then England for another couple of years finally returning to Australia at the age of 24.

I wanted to understand the relationship between food, lifestyle, the mind, our attitudes and health as I intuitively knew that there was far more to healing than just what we eat and drink or how we exercise.

Because the arthritis in my legs impacted quite heavily on physical activities I voraciously consumed information about diet and lifestyle and the positive impact they might have on my health. I’d become a vegetarian at 17 and undertook a number of lengthy fasts, sometimes just with water or freshly made juice. On my return to Australia I again went into nursing but then decided to study naturopathy, massage, homeopathy and herbal medicine. I wanted to understand the relationship between food, lifestyle, the mind, our attitudes and health as I intuitively knew that there was far more to healing than just what we eat and drink and/or how we exercise and the medical approach, which always seems to be shutting the gate after the horse had bolted! I knew the mind had a lot to do with health. I noticed how different my body felt when I meditated rather than when I felt overwhelmed by fear, anxiety, hopelessness, depression, self-loathing and despair. However, no amount of meditation helped me deal with these powerful and overwhelming emotions. I knew how to escape them by meditating but meditation didn’t resolve the underlying self-loathing that permeated my life.

Quite soon after returning to Australia I met Leo who was soon to become my husband. We married and had two beautiful children, Kate and Simon. Unfortunately though, my husband was violent and the marriage lasted about eight years before its rather sudden ending.

Brenden was always a little bit ahead of me making a mess of his life. We used to talk about living on the edge of a ‘black hole’. The black hole was where despair, anguish, anxiety and melancholia lived and he and I always seemed to be teetering on the edge of it.

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Jess: You mentioned there were three children in your family. Can you tell me about your other brother?

Petrea: I have an older brother, Ross. Everyone in the family had a relationship to Brenden, but not really to each other because he was such a huge presence in our home. When Brenden died my older brother Ross and I decided that if we were going to have a relationship, we would have to get to know each other. Ross lived in the US for 20 years where I often visited him but he’s back here in Australia now, even though he still spends quite a lot of time working there. Even though we are very different from each other philosophically, it is a very loving relationship and we have grown closer over the years. We’ve been very supportive of each other as our parents have aged and we focus on what we have in common.

After I completed my naturopathic studies, my husband, children and I moved to a community in America so we could do our yoga and meditation teacher training. We had been there for just four weeks when I thought Leo had gone for a long walk, but he’d actually gone back to Australia with all our money leaving me stranded with two small children in a geodesic dome! Brenden had recently taken his life and I was feeling overwhelmed by grief, loss and trauma.

Not long after Leo left I became very weak and ill and I was soon diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia and was told that I would be dead by Christmas, which was three months away. My very first reaction was relief because I felt in many ways that my life was a constant struggle and I was so weary of having to keep up appearances when really I felt hopeless and helpless.

my daughter, who was seven, sat on my bed and said, “Mum, you’re sick. If you need to meditate to get well, I think you should go back to America.”

My mother came to America to pack us up and she brought us back to Australia. I had been offered experimental treatment in the US – which I couldn’t afford – and I needed to be looked after by someone so this fell to my mother who cared for me. Kate and Simon went to live with their father as I was too sick to look after them. After about three weeks my daughter, who was seven, sat on my bed and said, “Mum, you’re sick. If you need to meditate to get well, I think you should go back to America.”

Jess: What a wise little soul!

Petrea: Yes. Her words came as a great shock as I felt that I had come home to die and she was sending me away. It was a very difficult decision but shortly after I returned to California and from there travelled with the head of that community, Swami Kriyananda, to Italy where he was teaching. It’s a longer story but finally I landed in Assisi and stayed for several months in a monastery built around a series of caves that St Francis and his disciples had used for prayer and meditation.

I had many disciplines to keep my mind focused on the breath or the mantra to avoid experiencing any of the feelings that would arise. So finally, in the cave it all came unstuck and I wept for weeks.

Each day I would spend up to eighteen hours a day in the Grotto of St Francis. It was there that I realised I’d used meditation for many years to avoid my feelings. I had many disciplines to keep my mind focused on the breath or the mantra to avoid experiencing any of the feelings that would arise. So finally, in the cave it all came unstuck and I wept for weeks.

Jess: That’s a relief to hear!

Petrea: Yes, I meditated, prayed and wept, meditated, prayed and wept.

Jess: So that was very healing?

Petrea: It was very healing. The old priest, Father Ilarino was amazing as he took care of me, shopped for me, cooked for me. I think he was worried that he had this pale, skinny, divorced Anglican holed up in his little Catholic cave. I think he thought I might die in there and he was determined I wouldn’t die in his precious Grotto! The first night he dragged me upstairs to sit at this ancient table where he put in front of me a meal with meat in it, a goblet of wine and a big chunk of white bread. As a naturopath I’d been saying for years, “The whiter the bread the sooner you’re dead.” I hadn’t eaten meat or hadn’t drunk alcohol, wine, tea, coffee or anything like that for 15 years. So it was like my whole belief system was there on the platter. I realised it was far more healing to be grateful for what he’d lovingly prepared for me – a stranger – than for me to say, “I can’t have what you’ve lovingly prepared because my belief system says no”. I realised that I knew zip about anything. For all my studies, my qualifications, my understandings and knowledge, I knew nothing about love, about trust, about letting go.

Jess: It was all good intentions and heart from him.

Petrea: Exactly. So it was the first dismantling of my beliefs. I knew how to live my life if I clung to those, but the thing I couldn’t do was trust in life. “I’ll do it myself” was the dominating feeling. So instead of that I started to practice seeing that I was in the palm of life/love/God, and there was nothing I could do that would ever separate me from the realisation of that except what was going on in my own head. There were a lot of tears and grief shed in that little Grotto. The whole experience was incredibly humbling because I was lovingly cared for by complete strangers.

Jess: You’re here now, so I assume the diagnosis was wrong?

Petrea: Well time passed, and as I dismantled everything and wept all of the tears over trying so hard to get it right, to measure up to some impossible self-imposed standard, I felt stronger and better. There were times when I was in a morass of self-pity where I felt totally unworthy and unlovable. I was so ‘me’ focussed. This is how low I had become: one day I was sitting outside the cave eating grapes when this blue and black butterfly landed on my knee. I squeezed it a drop of grape juice – and sat there feeling miserable. After a while another butterfly alighted on my other knee and I thought, “I’m good for something! I’m a good place for butterflies to land on!” That’s how sick (in the head!) I was at the time. I realised I’d just become this black hole; I was completely self-absorbed, I was my own universe and I couldn’t see past it. I was always obsessing in my mind about not being good enough, of being a failure, a loathsome person and yet I could see so clearly that that would perpetuate my suffering. I felt trapped in my own miserable mind!

Jess: I guess you were encouraged implicitly by your family to be self-contained. When you’re self-contained where else do you turn to look, except at yourself? It’s hard to escape the parameters of your own existence.

This was the task I set myself to, liberating myself from self-hatred and judgement.

Petrea: That’s true, it’s not easy but what else is there to do but liberate ourselves from this kind of sick thinking? And this was the task I set myself to, liberating myself from self-hatred and judgement. So when I came back after several months in the cave, I desperately wanted to be with my children and I wanted the peace that I had come to, to remain. I wanted that peace in my relationships; I wanted that peace to remain with me in all aspects of my life. I knew that peace was not dependent on being in my body. My preference was to live but I wasn’t addicted to having to stay alive, because I knew peace was not dependent on staying in my body.

So I returned to Australia, saw my doctor and had extensive blood tests. He told me I had zillions of baby red blood cells and that I was in an unexpected remission from leukaemia. He assured me that leukaemia would return in a few days or weeks. I suspect one reason I may have developed leukaemia was that I had hundreds of x-rays as a teenager. Portable X-ray machines had just been invented and I had one every other day to see if the bones in my legs were uniting.

Jess: All of that would kill anyone off quickly!

Petrea: Yes, I think my immune system took a serious dip due to grief, shock and despair. I have found since that many people suffer an illness several months after a shock or grief.

Those of us who have had many shocks in life know that life can change in a phone call, a breath or a conversation and it’s never the same again. We know that life can change in a moment.

I found living with uncertainty very challenging. When you know you’re going to die there are things that you need to say and do and I’d done and said all of them. I had my Will and financial affairs in order. I’d made tapes and letters for my children for the future. I had my whole life all packed up ready for the big ‘trip’… and then the plane got cancelled. How much do you unpack? How much do you live as if you’re really going to be here? Then I realised that everyone is living with uncertainty, they just don’t know they are. Those of us who have had many shocks in life know that life can change in a phone call, a breath or a conversation and it’s never the same again. We know that life can change in a moment. But a lot of people don’t know that until it happens to them.

I lived in this place of great uncertainty until my mother said to me, “Have you thought of working, dear?” I rang Marcus Blackmore from Blackmores and he told me, “Forget what the doctor said. There’s a doctor in Mosman looking for a naturopath to go into practice with him. I’ll introduce you.”

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So I went into practice with Dr Emmanuel Varipatis and within the first two weeks, the first person with breast cancer came in and the day after, the first person with AIDS came to see me. Both of them had been told that they wouldn’t see Christmas, which is what I’d been told fifteen months earlier. I felt they were fellow travellers in the transit lounge of their lives and my question to people has always been, “What is it that stands in the way of you being at peace?” Sometimes it was diarrhoea and I’d adjust their diet and use herbs to alleviate that symptom. It’s hard to have peace of mind if you don’t have peace in your body! After the symptom was relieved I would ask again, “Now what is it that stands in the way of you being at peace?” “I’m not sleeping.” So we dealt with that using meditation or visualisation or herbal relaxants. “Now what is it?” “I don’t know who I am, I don’t know why I’m here; I don’t know what my purpose is; my relationships are in tatters, I want peace, I need forgiveness.” These were familiar issues for me and these clients began to help me understand and in time, articulate the inner human journey we are all on, the journey to peace and wholeness.

“Who am I? What am I doing on the planet? Am I living the life I came here to live? If not, why not? And what am I going to do about it?” Those were the questions I had grappled with and they had been the driving force in my life.

The conversations with clients got ever deeper. The more I was just present – without judgement, creating a space for the unutterable to be spoken – it seemed to be profoundly helpful for my clients. I provided a safe space in which people could utter the anguish or give expression to whatever was causing them distress. “Who am I? What am I doing on the planet? Am I living the life I came here to live? If not, why not? And what am I going to do about it?” Those were the questions I had grappled with and they had been the driving force in my life.

It is interesting that we often talk about what is second nature to us without ever wondering about our first nature, our essential nature, before we took on the fears, anxieties, limitations and beliefs that impel our behaviours.

Even now, thirty one years later, I often sit in a circle of people with extraordinary stories. Stories about illness, traumas, disasters or diagnoses, we call them the Ds – drama, disappointment, diagnosis, death, divorce, disloyalties, disfigurements, disasters – there are lots of Ds! And when you bump into these Ds in life, everything that’s second nature to us doesn’t work. So it might be second nature to drown our sorrows, to drug ourselves, to fill ourselves up with so much busyness that we don’t have time to feel. It might be second nature to blame other people for our misery, to resent other people’s happiness. But this D, whatever it is, causes us to realise that, whatever has become second nature to us, no longer works. It is interesting that we often talk about what is second nature to us without ever wondering about our first nature, our essential nature, before we took on the fears, anxieties, limitations and beliefs that impel our behaviours.

Jess: “Second nature” is such an off the cuff phrase. What happened to the first nature?

Petrea: For me the purpose of human existence is to relinquish everything that has become second nature to us so that we reveal, experience and live, in our first nature, our essential nature, which is home to love, compassion, wisdom, insight and the source of our creativity … all of those wonderful qualities that we sacrifice the moment we project into the future our fears, worries and anxieties or we’re consumed by resenting, blaming or the shaming of our history.

Jess: It’s a relinquishing of the persona.

Petrea: It’s letting go of all mental constructs or beliefs born of our wounds. Once we’ve let go the construction there’s just the moment and our place in it. The less we construct the better because then we experience the moment with freshness and without judgement.

People travel from all over Australia and beyond to the Quest for Life Centre to find a safe place in which to utter what has been unutterable and, once heard and deeply understood, they are in a position to learn practical skills for managing their life and its challenges. It puts them back into the driver’s seat and allows them to live with a profound sense of meaning.

Jess: I should take a few steps back and ask how Quest for Life came to be. You were working in Sydney as a naturopath for a while working with a colleague of Marcus Blackmore’s and then…

Petrea: Then I worked from home because I started support and meditation groups – ten a week! –and we had over 200 people in our sunroom each week. I worked for a couple of years with prisoners with HIV and AIDS in Long Bay jail and at the Albion Street AIDS centre conducting support and meditation groups.

In the very first cancer support group I ran there was a woman with breast cancer named Kay and her partner Wendie. I didn’t know Wendie so well, but Kay came to support groups for several years. In this time she grappled with the highs and lows of her illness and finally her impending death and the leaving of her three beautiful children and her beloved partner. Before Kay died she told Wendie, “When you’re over the worst of the grief, go and see what you can do to fluff Petrea up because who looks after her?” So Wendie became a volunteer and, before long, my partner of now 22 years.

Jess: She’s still fluffing you up!

Petrea: Yes indeed! We are very fortunate to have each other. In 1995 Wendie and I moved to Bundanoon. Bundanoon picked us as we were really looking to live somewhere on the coast. One weekend we returned to Sydney via Bundanoon and it just seemed to us that this is where we were meant to be.

Jess: Bundanoon has a very homely feeling about it.

Petrea: Yes. We weren’t sure if we could keep doing this work because who would come to Bundanoon? I commenced my practice again in a rented house as we had decided to no longer work from home. It needed to be our sanctuary, our place of replenishment. The following year, this beautiful guesthouse on nine acres came on the market for $1.5 million. The Quest for Life Foundation, which I had established in 1989, only had $15,000 in its account. I had always dreamed of providing a safe place for other people who were distressed by the events of their lives. One of my clients gave me a slip of paper with someone’s name on it and said, “If you’re serious about purchasing this place then ring these people.” Wendie and I meditated and prayed about it and finally made that phone call. These wonderful people who have always chosen to remain anonymous enabled Quest to purchase and refurbish the buildings so that they were suitable for our use. We opened in 1999 and have been busy ever since providing retreats for people living with life’s great challenges of cancer and other chronic illnesses/pain, grief, loss, trauma, PTSD, depression and so on.

The aim of each program or retreat is to help people actively contribute to their health and wellbeing and establish peace of mind. It’s about living today well. The capacity of the human spirit to embrace great suffering is just extraordinary and is very inspiring to witness.

Jess: I guess there’s always that little kernel of growth within painful experiences that can be embraced. There is always an opportunity.

Petrea: Otherwise your suffering gnaws away at you until you deal with it, or it embitters you, or it kills you. We can feel as angry, miserable or depressed as we need to, for as long as we need to, because what happened to us may well be a terrible thing. But we all recognise that staying stuck in that place of anger, depression or misery isn’t going to help us to find peace.

Jess: So what happens when people come to Quest? What kinds of changes do you see? I imagine there are many cathartic moments?

Petrea: It’s not particularly cathartic; it’s more about the inner journey. People’s tears are always welcome, but there’s a lot more laughter than tears. There’s a great power of possibility in a group of people who all understand suffering even though their suffering may be born of different causes.

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We have very experienced teams of six that work on our retreats. There are two facilitators, two support people, a trained counsellor and a massage therapist on every program. The first part of the retreat focuses on helping people to feel safe. We often encourage people to stay on the property if they’re feeling emotionally fragile. The food at Quest is fabulous and much of it comes from our organic gardens. The retreat starts at 4 o’clock on Monday and concludes with lunch on Friday. We talk about the journey of being human which is based on neuroscience, epigenetics and an understanding of a holistic perspective. We discuss sleep, nutrition, the role of exercise, switching off the mind, living mindfully, forgiveness, making meaning of suffering, managing our time, communication strategies, and a host of practical strategies that equip people to deal more effectively with their challenges.

As babies and young children we were all enculturated into our families where we learned the, “I’ll be happy when…” story and the judgement of others who our family believe are less than us, more than us, different from us, whether that is about religion, culture, sexual orientation, intelligence or lack of it, socio-economic backgrounds and so on. We also adjust our behaviour according to the dynamics of our own particular family. For instance, we may become the responsible one, the peace maker, the sickly one, the black sheep, the bright one, the dumb one, the pretty one, the brave one and so on. All of that information has gone in by the time we are three years of age, long before we have the ability to articulate any of it. It hasn’t been absorbed in a conscious way. It is an unconscious adaptation into our environment. We secrete an inner chemistry of neurotransmitters – which are chemical messengers – according to how we feel moment by moment. These chemicals of our emotions influence every cell of our body so, in our retreats, we talk about the science around that. It may become normal to feel a particular way, it becomes second nature to us to feel that way and we set off in life hoping that we’ll be happy at a future time when things look different from how they are in the present moment. We take our beliefs, attitudes and judgements into every encounter as they have become second nature to us. Then when we bump into a D in life and everything that is second nature to us doesn’t work. It might be second nature to you to drown your sorrows, to isolate, to blame others to resent other people’s happiness, to sleep all the time or not sleep, to over or under eat and we finally realise, “Something’s got to change, and it’s me. I can’t change what happened – the D – what I can change is how I’m going to respond to it.” So we look at the neuroscience around that. Meditation and mindfulness are important factors in allowing us to live more in the present moment.

Whether it’s about self-realisation, revelation of the soul, however you like to think of it, to me it’s all profoundly spiritual work.

Jess: Given The Soul Spectrum looks at the soul, would you describe that essential part of yourself as the soul?

Petrea: What’s really creative about what we do is that it’s all commonsense, grounded, and backed up by good science. For me, everything we do is profoundly spiritual work because it’s about relinquishing everything that’s become second nature to us; it’s about realising our essential nature, our first nature – before we took on the limitations, beliefs and attitudes from our childhood or from life’s adventures. So whether it’s about self-realisation, revelation of the soul, however you like to think of it, to me it’s all profoundly spiritual work.

I work with people who may not want to hear about the soul. They may be feeling disheartened or even desperate for peace but we often need someone to witness our anguish or begin to move through our rage or despair before we’re ready to hear about peace. I avoid any language that might close anyone down or cause them to react. What matters is that people feel profoundly heard and that someone ‘gets them’. I’ve also learned through long experience that people have their own best answers and, if we provide a safe non-judgemental environment in which they can begin that journey, they will discover their own best approach to the situation or challenge they are facing.

Jess: It’s about not alienating anyone…

Petrea: The important thing is to find a common language where we can talk about what is profoundly important. So whether it’s working in a jail, in Parliament House, with doctors, with street kids, with judges … how can we talk about what really matters in a way that no one glazes over or feels that they haven’t been acknowledged and heard in some meaningful way.

Jess: So where to from here?

Petrea: Initially my vision for this place was grander than what we’ve been able to achieve. I would love to have people living on the property; I would love to see a healing centre here where we can have a range of therapists and counsellors; I’d love to see a meditation and yoga hall that’s a dedicated quiet space; I’d love a day centre where people could leave a relative who is unwell or frail so that they can do their shopping or whatever, but I don’t think that those chapters are my work. Wendie was 70 in January, and I’m 63, so my work over the next three to five years will be to make this place sustainable into the future with more people holding the vision for Quest.

Jess: I’m sure there will be a way. Thanks very much Petrea.

* For more information about Petrea King and her work at Quest for Life, please visit www.questforlife.com.au

* For more information about Hamish Ta-mé, please visit www.shotbyhamish.com

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